One of the best ways of getting an early reading on the quality of a new national administration is on the basis of the President-elect's ability to attract competent people to help him serve the country.
By this yardstick, George Bush deserves reasonably high marks so far.As expected, Bush is relying heavily on close friends and former Reagan administration officials to serve on his team. It's an understandable and an acceptable practice. After all, personal loyalty and rewards for favors are the essence of politics. Previous experience also lends continuity and stability to a new administration.
But if the new team consists almost entirely of old hands with familiar ideas, the potential for flexibility and growth can be stunted. A few new faces are in order if fresh approaches to persistent problems are not to be buried.
Just such a healthy blend can be seen in the new appointments that Bush announced Tuesday.
Bush filled out his economic team with the selection of Texas oilman Robert Mosbacher as Secretary of Commerce, prominent Washington lawyer Carla Hills as U.S. Trade Representative, and Stanford economist Michael Boskin as head of the Council of Economic Advisers. They join Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady and Budget Director-designate Richard Darman on the team that will advise Bush on economics.
At the same time, Bush asked William Webster to stay on as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and tapped veteran envoy Thomas Pickering as ambassador to the United Nations.
Of this group, the new faces are Mosbacher and Boskin.
Though Mosbacher is new to Washington, he goes a long way back with George Bush and is the third Texan picked for the new Cabinet so far. The finance chairman of this year's winning White House campaign, Mosbacher knew the new president-elect when both were young men working to expand family fortunes in Texas oil. Boskin is one of the few economists who believes Bush's plan for a flexible budget freeze is workable.
So far, Mrs. Hills is the only woman named to a senior post in the new administration. She comes to the trade post at a time when it is becoming more visible and prestigious because of the pressing issues of global trade and protectionism. Receptive to new ideas and new challenges, she is a political veteran who was only the third woman Cabinet officer in history when President Ford named her Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Since then, six women have served in Cabinet posts.
Webster, of course, served as FBI director before moving to the CIA in 1987. Pickering is a career Foreign Service officer who currently is U.S. ambassador to Israel. He also has represented the U.S. in Jordan, El Salvador, and Nigeria.
So far, the new Bush team is short on appointees who are political stars in their own right, with followings of their own and the kind of national prominence that does not depend on their association with the man who appointed them.
That situation could change if, as rumored, former Texas Sen. John Tower is named Secretary of Defense or former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole is picked for some key post in the new administration.
By selecting associates who could compete with him for publicity, prestige, and power, Bush would demonstrate considerable strength and self-confidence. But he would also be taking a risk, since highly ambitious appointees can use a Cabinet post as a base from which to further their own political objectives rather than those of the new administration.
In any event, as George Bush continues to fill key posts in his coming administration, he would be well advised to keep seeking a blend of Washington insiders with new faces. After all, the more kinds of voices the President hears before reaching a decision, the less likely he is to overlook important considerations and make a major mistake.